by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five Time Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Section.Paragraph)
"I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber."
"You sound to me as though you don't believe in free will," said Billy Pilgrim. (4.21.5-6)
Free will depends on a progressive notion of time, in which we proceed from past to present to future. Without an infinite future in front of us, we cannot choose to change anything—we have no free will. Yet, in reality, even if we do live in time, as humans are supposed to, we still struggle against constraints on our freedom. We cannot choose to make a kajillion dollars just because we want to, for example. Thus, while free will depends on a sequential notion of time, having time in front of you does not guarantee freedom.
Billy thought hard about the effect the quartet had had on him, and then found an association with an experience he had had long ago. He did not travel in time to the experience. He remembered it shimmeringly. (8.22.1)
This scene with the barbershop quartet is one of the only moments in the book when Billy remembers the past instead of reliving it. We think this is because he is not recalling an actual barbershop quartet like the one in front of him. Instead, he associates barbershop quartets with the German guards seeing the devastation of Dresden for the first time. How does the emotional impact of Billy's memories differ from his time-travel?
On Tralfamadore, says Billy Pilgrim, there isn't much interest in Jesus Christ. The Earthling figure who is most engaging to the Tralfamadorian mind, he says, is Charles Darwin—who taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements. (10.2.1)
Darwin's idea of evolution teaches that species die out for a reason. But in a sense, it seems odd that the Tralfamadorians would appreciate this idea, because they deliberately refuse to ask the question Darwin answers: "Why?"